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Menstruation and Candle Blessings

In the May Chronicle I described how Rabbi Elise Goldstein, searching for a sacred way of marking the beginning of her menstruation, had reclaimed for herself the shelo asani ishah blessing (Blessed is the One Who has not made me a woman), by rephrasing it in the positive – Baruch She’asani Ishah (Blessed is the One Who has made me a woman).

In a response written to the newspaper (printed here on page__), David Abeldas is concerned that this might be a brachah levatalah, an unnecessary or erroneous blessing, because “no rabbi today would have the audacity to invent new blessings as this would be a serious breach of halacha contravening the Torah commandments…”  I wonder whether he feels that every time he, or someone in his household, recites the blessing for candles on Friday night, that they are making an erroneous blessing?

You see, despite the wording we all say – v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Shabbat, and Who has commanded us to light the light of Shabbat – you will not find any command to light candles in the Torah.   You will not find it anywhere in the Hebrew Bible.  You will not find the blessing in the Mishnah, Talmud, or in the earliest siddurim of Saadia Gaon and Seder Rav Amram (9th Century).  In fact, the first time you will see it appearing in a siddur is in the Machzor Vitry, a compendium of prayers and laws put together by the students of Rashi, the famous 11th Century French commentator (which incidentally also describes how women of the time were putting on tallit and tefillin with blessings).

The reason for that is that until the 11th Century, nobody said a blessing for lighting candles.  And when Rashi decided that it was a mitzvah to light candles (see his commentary to the Talmud Shabbat 25b), there was no precedent for the wording of such a blessing.  But there was a blessing already being said over Chanukah candles that had the merit of being mentioned in the Talmud, v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Chanukah.  All that Rashi (or probably his grandson, Rabbeinu Tam) did was to take out the word Chanukah and replace it with Shabbat.  How do we know that Rashi’s daughters said this blessing?  Because we have a responsum, written by Rashi’s granddaughter, Hannah, describing the ritual performed in their home, including that blessing that we all say today.  A blessing that in Jewish terms is fairly new, only 900 years old.

You see, Judaism has always evolved to meet the challenges of new times, and that does not mean that it is in any way “deficient”.  In fact, the opposite.  A religion that is robust and confident enough to continuously struggle is one that is able to grow.

With a few outstanding exceptions, the Sages were men, and legislated from their personal experience.  They thanked God for the miracle of their bodies in the same way that Rabbi Goldstein thanks God for hers, and they did not write a blessing for menstruation since they did not menstruate.   Where were the brachot for entering menopause, for weaning a child?  Where could the rituals possibly have been written then for taking fertility treatment or having a mammogram?  Until the 20th Century there was no ritual for a bat mitzvah, until an American Reconstructionist rabbi’s daughter performed the first one.  (In fact, the bar mitzvah celebration that we know today only came into being in the Middle Ages.)  We sadly need rituals for healing from abuse and incest or after a course of chemotherapy.  And thank God, in today’s world we need to write appropriate blessings for a lesbian couple standing under the chuppah.

Yes, libraries have been written to explain away the apparent sexism and misogyny inherent in Judaism, and if they speak to you, I will not object.  But libraries are also being written to fill gaps that have stood for a thousand years or some that have only opened today.  A wonderful resource available to all Jews is where men and women are writing new Jewish rituals for today, rooted in tradition.  I encourage all to browse around and see what innovations are possible when we feel confident enough to use the rich legacy of our tradition creatively.

A blessing is a spiritual flashlight, a Jewish tool of awareness and insight that can bring holiness to the most mundane of moments, and can elevate the great transitions of our life’s journey to the sacred.  To use them effectively we need to take ownership, know how to use them and where they are missing, to use the wisdom of our sages to help us renew the old and sanctify the new.

Is There a Brachah for Menstruation?

The Sages of Old composed blessings for all kinds of things.  There is a blessing before food and another for afterwards.  A blessing for putting on a hat, for seeing lightning and meeting a King.  There is even a blessing for going to the loo.  But there is no brachah for getting your period.  You might point out that the Sages of Old were male and therefore did not get a ‘monthly visitor’, but they were in tune enough to write blessings for women to say over candles, challah and yes, upon immersing in the mikveh on the completion of their period.  So why nothing for the moment the period arrives?

Undoubtedly menstruation is not an easy topic for anyone to discuss.  Besides our innate fear or even disgust of blood and bleeding there is the fact that the arrival of one’s period has strong implications in different ways.  For the twelve or thirteen year-old it is their introduction to womanhood.  For the young woman it is confirmation of not being pregnant, either a relief or a heartbreak depending on circumstance.  For the mature woman it is a sign of the potential to bring new life into the world and for the post-menopausal woman its absence is often mourned.  On the biological level it is nothing less than a miracle, a woman’s womb growing what it needs to support a fertilised egg, and when an egg does not implant, seeing it is not needed, the body lets it go.  Miraculous mechanics.

But Judaism, like many ancient religions, recognised that this blood allows us to connect with something deeper.  It is no accident that the Torah portions we are reading now from Vayikra/Leviticus have much to say about blood, whether it is not eating it, what to do with blood in emissions or where to sprinkle blood from animal sacrifices.  Blood connects us with life and with death in the most primal of ways.  It makes us confront our own mortality.  And menstruation connects blood, death, life, and the potential for making new life, all in one.

Many Jewish couples practise niddah, a ritual separation of partners during menstruation.  Depending how it is practised, this can be experienced as a deep and meaningful way for couples to build their relationship through a regular period of non-physical loving.  It can grow trust, love and help both parties to find different ways of communicating, sharing love and solving problems.  In the worst cases, it can leave one or both partners feeling unloved, unheld and even worse, trapped by their religion in a monthly ritual of shame.  In the best cases it is entered into knowingly and openly by consenting couples who find the ritual meaningful and work hard at using it as a tool of growing and showing their love.

Which brings us back to why there is no brachah for the onset of menstruation.  One woman decided that there was a gap in her praying/blessing life that needed filling.  Now a rabbi, thirty years ago Elyse Goldstein turned what she felt was a very negative blessing into one that celebrated her being a woman.  In some siddurim, the morning blessings contain a brachah that blesses God shelo asani ishah, “for not having made me a woman” (women say instead, “who has made me according to Your will.”)  Now, libraries have been written both critical of and in defense of this brachah written by Rabbi Meir in the Mishnaic Period, and space does not allow me to do it full justice here.  Suffice it to say that our new siddur, Mishkan T’filah does not contain that blessing.  Instead it has replaced that with the blessing to be said by both men and women, she-asani b’tzelem Elohim, “for having made me in the image of God.”

Rabbi Elyse Goldstein did the following: she took the words of the morning blessing  and adapted them into a brachah for menstruation, rephrasing the words to say: “Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has made me a woman – she’asani ishah.” In her words, she explains, “Saying the blessing becomes a revolutionary moment, for this slight change in wording–.  changing the negative “who has not made me a woman” into the positive “who has made me a woman”–affirms my holiness and sanctity within the context of menstruation, not despite it.”

Progressive Judaism has fought long and hard to make Judaism more egalitarian in issues of gender, class, power and education.  We have ensured that boys and girls prepare equally for their bar or bat mitzvah and both are called up to the Torah.  Women have access to study in yeshivot, can become rabbis or service leaders, cantors, sofers or mohels.  However, our bodies, and our experience of our bodies is very different, and being egalitarian does not mean ignoring difference.  In fact, if done appropriately, celebrating difference is yet another way of ensuring that we all end up more empowered.

In the words of Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, “See menstrual blood, then, as women’s covenantal blood–just as the blood of b’rit milah (ritual circumcision) is men’s. For women too have a b’rit (covenant) inscribed in our flesh as an “everlasting covenant” (Genesis 17:19): not just once, at eight days old, but every single month.”


So, in between Yom Kippur and Succot, on a break from knocking together a rather fantastic Sukkah, (even though I say so myself), I am in the car on the way to Wynberg when Kieno Kammies comes on Cape Talk Radio asking why people still bury when cremation is so much more eco-friendly.

Hold on a moment, when did cremation suddenly become so eco-friendly?  Think about it.  The furnace needs an enormous amount of energy to be heated to 870-950⁰C and needs to keep it there for between 90 minutes to two hours, with larger bodies taking longer, and that is not the end.  After the incineration is completed, the dry bone fragments are swept out of the furnace and pulverized by a machine called a cremulator to process them into ‘ashes’.  According to the American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the amount of non-renewable fossil fuel needed to cremate bodies in North America is equivalent to a car making 84 trips to the Moon and back… each year.

So Kieno, where did the eco-credentials come from?  There may be many reasons why a Jew chooses to cremate instead of bury, (and thanks to our What is Progressive Judaism? brochure inserted in the Chronicle earlier this year, you know our shul’s position on that) but ecology cannot be one of them.

In many of the pro-cremation websites I have seen, the criticism of burials is the high level of pollutants that end up in the earth, such as embalming fluid and toxic varnishes on coffins.  Neither of these are used in Jewish burials in Cape Town, since we all end up in the same unvarnished pine box with rope handles, and embalming is not allowed.  The real eco-problem with Jewish burial is how you use the cemetery space.

If our cemeteries are long uninterrupted rows of stones with no greenery, they are not fulfilling their eco-potential.  Any urban development needs green spaces.   Parks and gardens are the lungs of a city.  The problem is, with growing pressure for residential and business space, green areas are steadily getting less and less and cities are getting unhealthier to live in.  A cemetery can be a perfect  green space which can’t be developed into a town house complex or strip mall.

What you do need is trees and greenery.  Many Jewish cemeteries have not planted, or have even removed, trees because of the inconvenience to Cohanim making their way along the paths – trees which overhang both graves and paths create a ‘tent’ which the Cohanim cannot pass through. (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 369:1).  However, with a little planning one can ensure that all trees are planted in perimeter areas that do not affect the passage of Cohanim, and along paths you then plant indigenous shrubs, flowers and foliage.  What you are now doing is creating an eco-green space which will also be more beautiful.

Some may feel that regarding a cemetery as a beautiful place is slightly morbid, but why does it need to be?  Not only are cemeteries an opportunity for a host of mitzvot, but they also tell incredible stories of the history of our communities and our families.  They are not places to be superstitiously afraid of, but to be fascinated by, and to be regularly visited.  Walk around, sit for quiet moment, pull a weed or two and read a stone of a long-gone relative.  And in time for Tu-biShvat 2011, get ready to plant and plant some more.  It is time for the Cape Town community to pick up their spades and plant trees and shrubs in Pinelands to transform it into a more aesthetically attractive area and a more ecologically powerful green space in the city.  Temple Israel will be spearheading a campaign to plant up the Pinelands cemetery and details will be available in your next Cape Jewish Chronicle – watch this space!

The King of the King of Kings – the Royal Wedding

As I write this, the world is tuning in to watch a young man and a young woman tie the knot in London.  While any wedding is a special event, why is this one attracting so much attention?  The couple are young and glamorous, but that is just part of it.  His family is rich and famous and his mother died tragically young, but that’s not quite it either.  It might well have a lot to do with the fact that in a number of years’ time, he is destined to be King of England.

How does Judaism stand on monarchs?  Fervently royalist, surely?  King David stands out as one of the most inspirational biblical figures.  First glance at the torah reveals that it is no less than a mitzvah to appoint a king.  Yet a closer look at what is known as Parshat ha-Melech (the portion of the king – Deut. 17:14-20) reveals that things are a bit more complicated.    The Torah says that, “When you come to the land which the Eternal your God gives you, and shall possess it, and shall live in it, and you shall say, I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me; You shall set him king over you, whom the Eternal your God shall choose.”

On the one hand it seems clear that king-making has divine approval.  And yet, unique of all the mitzvot, this one is not initiated by God, but by the people.  “And you shall say, I will set a king over me, like all the nations around me.”  Suddenly this king-thing sounds less holy.  More like keeping up with the Joneses. And in Biblical times, the Joneses were sacrificing their children to Ba’al.  Not really the kind of inspirational role models you want your newly-shaped nation to be following.

When, much later, the people finally do get around to demanding a king, the prophet at the time, Shmuel, does everything he can to dissuade them.  He was worried that the Children of Israel were trying to use a king of flesh and blood to replace the King of Kings.  After all, the entire Exodus from Egypt was to teach us that our destiny is not to be a slave to an earthly king.  Our job, as explained at Sinai, is not to have an external ruler control us, but for us to control ourselves.  The Torah sets up a framework whereby we can manage our society, set up a system of justice, control our urges of sex, money, power and build internal ethics.  Instead of a powerful monarch, we are to empower one another to each rule ourselves.  It’s a powerful message of self-government.

So, pageantry and glamour aside, are royal weddings irrelevant?  Not at all.  As the Talmud tells us, “royalty on earth reflects royalty in Heaven” (Brachot 58a).  That is, of course, when the royals are not swanning around the Caribbean on yachts sleeping with each other’s spouses.  Based on what we have seen thus far, this particular couple have begun well.  And once either Charles or William becomes king and drops in to Cape Town it will give us an opportunity to say the blessing for seeing a non-Jewish king: Baruch Atah…shenatan m’kvodo l’vasar v’dam – Blessed are You, Eternal our God, who has given from Your glory to (humans of) flesh and blood.  A reminder of just Who is the source of it all.  The King of the King of Kings.

As you read this we are counting the days up to Shavuot, the anniversary of the giving of the Torah at Mt Sinai.  One of the most stirring midrashic images of that moment is of a divine wedding with the Jewish people as the bride, God as the groom and Mt Sinai as the chuppah.  And what was the ketubah?  The Torah of course.  Come to shul on erev Shavuot and celebrate a truly royal wedding.

Egypt – standing together for freedom

The Jewish world watches developments in the Middle East with baited breath. 

On the one hand, there is a fear that any regime change in Egypt will be bad for Israel.  Despite its frostiness and fragility, the Peace agreement with Egypt has been central to Israeli security policies for the last 30 years.  The opposition party Muslim Brotherhood, should they be forming a new government, are not likely to make friendly relationships with Israel a central pillar of their new foreign policy.  A post-Mubarak Egypt might open the border with Gaza, and arms will pour into the Gaza strip to be used against Israel’s citizens. 

On the other hand, no Jew can watch the images of the Egyptian people rising up against a tyrant and not relate it to our own history, albeit 3500 years ago.  Then it was a Pharaoh who had ordered his soldiers to throw our sons into the Nile River.  Now we are standing with our brothers on the streets of Egypt chanting for freedom. 

What seems clear from the events of the past weeks is that the Middle East as we know it looks likely to change.  How dramatically we cannot say, but if Tunisia is anything to go by we are looking at what one journalist called “the Berlin Wall moment” of the Middle East.

Any change is painful but also brings hope for a better future.  All we can do is pray that the change will be one that will bring empowerment and civil rights to more people in the region.  And the greatest hope is that it will open the possibility for a new position on Israel, one that will take the whole region’s benefit into consideration and that new windows of peace will open.

Sam Bahour – info tech business is booming…

Sam Bahour is tall, well spoken and very quick.  When he arrives, one of the Americans who doesn’t notice him come into the room is joking that had there been a hostage situation in his host family’s house, he was relieved that his roommate was worth more money than he and the hostage-takers would kidnap the higher value prisoner.  Sam walks to the front and without skipping a beat says with a smile how he heard that the Israeli Defence Force was going to move in on Bethlehem that morning and so he organised to speak to a group of International Western Jews to ensure his safety.

Sam Bahour talks frankly

He is a Palestinian/American who grew up in the USA and moved to Ramallah in the 1990′s after Oslo to develop the Palestinian economy.  He helped to set up the Palestinian telecommunications industry and is involved in several huge business interests, including the Plaza shopping mall in Ramallah, the first of its kind.  He is the treasurer of Birzeit University, a Director of Arab Islamic Bank and so on and so on.  He runs a business consulting firm and is up-to-date to the minute on American, Israeli and Palestinian current affairs, even exchanging thoughts with two members of our group who attended a high-level conference of American Jewish leaders that week in Jerusalem about their conference, fully aware of their discussions and their implications.  He blogs regularly here, and encourages us to follow the alternative online news in the region as well as the official Fatah position on their website.

What is most impressive about Sam is his ability to see the big picture.  He is not a historian but speaks knowledgeably about the history of Israel and Palestine.  He is not a politician but fully clued-up on the behind the scenes negotiations taking place and not taking place and why he believes they are not going to succeed until they change their focus and arbitration.  Wearing his business hat, he tells us  about the successful infrastructure they have built in the Palestinian controlled areas despite crushing circumstances.  When asked about the settlements question he tellingly explains that as a businessman, if he were asked to invest in the Israeli business plan that included the settlements he would not invest a cent.  He also prophecies that if the PLO leadership cannot bring home a final status agreement that includes a Palestinian state soon, they will lose the next election to Hamas. He explains how complex the negotiations are and also how Palestinians feel like Israel is negotiating over a pizza while eating it at the same time.  All that will be left at the end will be the box. 

He echoes the sentiment of many Israelis when he says that the sooner we can all move past the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, their leaders can address the real problems of the economy and the Arab Middle East – a powder keg that keeps being put lower on the agenda because of the more pressing needs of the negotiations.

I am a rabbi, not a politician or businessman, and much of his talk refers to concepts or personalities that I am not fully aware of, but the overall impression is of a man who could be comfortably wealthy in the USA but who has decided to remain in the region with his family and help build a Palestinian State.

Youth leaders and home hospitality Bethlehem-style

In the evening our group was joined by a large group of Palestinian young adults.  They were university students, youth leaders, and members of youth movements.  They came from Hebron and Bethlehem and there was a mix of Christian and Muslim Arabs.  Some had travelled to the USA or other countries, some had been to Israel, some had never left the Palestinian territories.  I chatted to Wared and to Halit who had some strong things to say about Israel.  For them, the presence of the Israeli state was the beginning of the problem.  They don’t believe that the 2-state solution is a solution at all, and have seen no progress since Oslo.  They believe that we should all share one land, one state and call it Palestine.  I ask them if they have any Israeli friends.  “Impossible” is their response.  It turns out that for most of these young people the only Israeli they have ever met was a soldier in uniform guarding a checkpoint. It starkly reminds me of growing up in suburban Johannesburg in the 70′s-80′s when the only Black person I met was one that was cleaning our house or working in the garden. 

Youth leaders dialogue dinner

We play a game where the leader calls out “Step into the circle if you…” and it starts with some easy sentences like, “if you have a family in Israel” or “if this is your first time in Bethlehem” and then gets to more challenging stuff like “if you lost a friend or family member in the Intifada” or “if you feel afraid when you hear Hebrew/Arabic spoken.”  What is remarkable is how often the number of Palestinians stepping in matches the number of Jews.  I ask “Step into the circle if you know and trust who your leader is in the negotiations” and no-one steps in.

Dinner with students

Seemingly just as things are getting warmed up, George and Najla, our hosts for the evening, want to take us home.  We drive a short distance to their home and meet their daughter and granddaughter and are invited to sit down for tea and later for a beer too (George and Najla are Christian, don’t get the wrong impression).  They tell us that two of their children now live in Dublin as they did not think it was a good time to raise a family in Palestine.  They spend any money they have going over to visit them.   Najla has put together a craft business getting embroidered scarves from Gaza and selling them to tourists and to a Jewish friend she has in Israel who has a shop there.

We are asked by Encounter not to davven in the homes or to speak hebrew or have kippot or tzitzit visible.  The families may well be fine with it, but neighbours might be less so.  I sleep in their son’s room upstairs.

Me, George and Rabbi Marc Soloway

 In the morning Najla feeds us the biggest breakfast  you have ever seen including homemade grapehoney and tehina, homemade marmelade, local olive oil, homemade hummus, homemade za’atar – just delicious.  And of course, she expected us to eat it all – Jewish mothers/ Palestinian mothers?  Then it’s into a taxi and off to our next meeting.

The Mayor, the Mediaman and the non-violence activist

Sitting with us in one room were three remarkable people.  George Sa’adeh is the deputy-Mayor of Bethlehem.  In 2003 during the Intifada, he and his wife were driving home from the supermarket with their two daughters in the back of the car.  They approached an Israeli jeep and tried to drive around it, when the soldiers opened fire.  George and his one daughter were hit.  When the firing stopped, George asked if everyone was OK.  His daughter Christine did not answer.  When he turned to her, she was dead.  It was later explained that they had the same model car as three wanted Palestinians and were fired on by mistake.

The tragedy is heart-wrenching, and there are just as many tragic stories from Israelis and Palestinians, but what is different about George is that he joined a group called the Bereaved Families Forum – a support group of (now hundreds of) Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost members in the conflict.  They work together for reconciliation and against violence.  Besides being Dep-Mayor, George is the principal of the Greek Shepherds School, a Christian and his story is told in the film Encounter Point which many of you will have seen at Limmud last year.

Sitting next to him is Raed Othman, an engineer who took the intiative to start up Bethlehem TV in 1998 and built that up to six independent TV stations and is now the head of the Ma’an Network which provides independent radio, TV and online news throughout Palestine.  Their agency has no political viewpoint and is able to be critical of all parties, including the PA government. 

Next to him is Ali Abu Awwad, who grew up in a politically active family and was arrested for resisting the Israeli occupation during the first intifada.  He was sentenced to ten years in Israeli prison, however he was released after four years after the signing of the Oslo accords. His experience in jail reminds me a lot of stories of the ANC in prison.  Palestinian prisoners formed a strong organisation where each prisoner was helped to read and study and they conducted organised political discussions twice a day. 

Like many in Palestine, Ali was filled with hope after Oslo and with Arafat and Rabin at the helm was ready to be a citizen of a Palestinian state in 1996. The longer this did not materialise, the more he got disillusioned. During the second intifada, Ali was shot in the leg by an Israeli settler and went to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment. While there, he received the news that his brother had been shot and killed by an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint at the entrance to their village. Ali and other members of his family later joined the Bereaved Families Forum where they are active in spreading a message of reconciliation and non-violence to Palestinians and Israelis. Ali is also featured in Encounter Point.

Ali points out that the way forward is not to be pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian.  The way forward is to be pro-solutions.  that is what his organisation, Al-Tariq, aims to promote.  He saw how debilitating the 2nd Intifada was and wants to ensure that a democratic, non-violent Palestine is the future.

Claire’s house

Next stop is Claire Anastas’s house.  Claire’s family ran a number of businesses before the intifada – they were a prominent and wealthy family. She remembers as a child running in and out of Rachel’s tomb playing hide-and-seek.  During the intifada her house was a key strategic position, so the Israeli soldiers used is as a base from which to shoot.  That meant that at any time in day or night she and her family would be forced downstairs while soldiers shot out of her windows and were shot at.  Iin 2002, the wall was constructed literally right in front of the door of their house and shops.

Claire Anastas house - walls on three sides

The wall now runs around three sides of the house, effectively cutting her off from the town.  Security cameras on top of the wall look into her house.  She and her nine children are expected to leave, but she wants to stay – she has started a new business selling souvenirs from her house and hopes that tourists will buy from her.

The wall towers over the house

 I wonder what it might feel like to wake up each morning with that concrete wall towering over me.  Would I decide to leave too?

The view from Claire's porch

The locals have done their best to personalise a wall that aims to dehumanise.  The graffiti reads, “This wall will not bring peace” and “Is this what you call a fence?” and “It’s better to live on your feet than die on your knees.”

Bethlehem, Beit Lechem

After leaving the school, we meet Leila Sansour, a documentary filmmaker who will take us around the town.  We are asked not to have any visible Jewish/Israeli symbols, so hat over kippah and tzitzit tucked in.  Feels weird and sad.  The last time I was here was when I was 13 with my family doing an Egged Bus tour and I have photos of myself in a kippah at the Church of the Nativity.

Bethlehem’s main income is tourism which has been crushed in the past 2 decades.  Many younger people have left seeing no future there.   Leila (a Christian herself) points out that the Christian Arab population is the one that has most been devastated with their livelihood so closely connected to Christian tourists coming to the holy sites there.  in 1947, Bethlehem was about 75% Christian and 25% Muslim.  The proportions are now completely reversed.  Most of her friends from youth live abroad - something I can relate to having grown up in Johannesburg.  It’s obviously a sensitive point, as later that day I asked the Deputy Mayor of Bethlehem why the Christians are leaving and he completely glossed over it and denied it was an issue.  Having said that, it was amazing over the time I was there to see how much the two are integrated.  We met with a large group of youth leaders later that night and the Christian/Muslim mix up was impressive.

Leila take us to a viewpoint on a hill overlooking Jerusalem in the distance.  We can see the tunnel road we came in on.  No Palestinians are allowed on that road.  It is for Israelis only.  She shows us the separation wall being built and asks us if we think it is for Israel’s security. We are sure it is.  I lived in Jerusalem when the Second Intifada began and there were bus bombings and suicide bombings weekly and sometimes daily.  A cafe that I used to visit regularly was blown up and a week after Andi and I left, two students at Pardes, Ben and Marla (z”l) were blown up by a suicide bomber at the Hebrew University.  Once the wall came up, the bombings stopped.

Tunnel Road, Separation Barrier

Leila points out that the bombings were already stopping when they decided to build the wall and that the wall is still not complete – if you (or a bomber) want to walk from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, you can do it without a problem.  The wall does not run along the Green Line (the border set up in 1949 to demarcate Israel from the Palestinian territory) but weaves into the West Bank around Jewish settlements and cuts through villlages and towns, even houses.  More about this later.  According to Leila, the Israeli govt is using the wall to grab land.  With the route it currently takes, if completed it will extend Jerusalem to include the settlement of Gush Etzion.

When asked about the govt.of the Palestinians, Leila gets angry.  What govt? Until there is a state, there can’t be a government.  What she wants, she says, is a Palestinian country so she can expect her leaders to be democratically accountable and if they aren’t they can get voted out.